Book Club: Great Italian Holiday Reads

June 8, 2010

From Tuscany to Rome to a villa on the Mediterranean, these page turners will have you booking your next flight to Italy.

“Mistress of Rome”
By Kate Quinn, $29.99, Headline Fiction Paperback

A heart-stopping love story about a Jewish slave girl and Rome’s greatest gladiator, who become involved in a plot to assassinate the Emperor of Rome… First-century Rome: a world of depravity and secrets where the Emperor Domitian watches over all. In the blood-soaked Colosseum, a gladiator known as the Barbarian reigns supreme. The Barbarian longs for the freedom that only death will bring. Yet the gods conspire to keep him alive… Thea, a slave girl from Judaea, has known only brutality at the hands of her Roman mistress. A chance encounter promises the hope of love, but Thea is destined to be sold again, and owned by one more powerful and evil than she could have ever imagined… Meanwhile, in the shadows of the Senate, the jackals are circling. Many would plot to take the feared Domitian’s life. But as the lives of the Emperor, the Barbarian and the slave girl collide, Domitian’s fate will lie solely in the hands of one woman, destined to become known as Mistress of Rome…

“Recipe for Life”
By Nicky Pellegrino, $32.99, Orion Fiction Paperback

A recipe for life should be a simple thing: love and happiness, family, friends and delicious food. But life is rarely straightforward… Alice wants to make the most of life – after all, she knows how fragile it can be – and knows she never feels more alive than when she’s cooking. Babetta has spent a lifetime tending the garden of her tiny house on the Italian coast, growing food to feed a family now grown and gone. One summer these two women are brought together in a crumbling Mediterranean villa, with the shared language of food and the soil they grow it from. There, under the heat of the Italian sun, or the shade of the pomegranate tree, secrets will be spoken, fears and hopes shared. But life’s lessons are not learnt easily.

“Death in the Mountains: The true story of a Tuscan murder”
By Lisa Clifford, $24.99, Published by Pan Macmillian Australia

“This is the true story of the murder of Artemio Bruni, a peasant farmer in the mountains of Casentino, north-eastern Tuscany, in the winter of 1907. Artemio was my husband’s great-grandfather. For reasons not understood by my husband’s family, Grandpa Artemio’s death was never investigated. It was not reported to the police, nor did Bruna Bruni, Artemio’s wife, ever demand justice. How could that be possible, I asked my mother-in-law – mafia? ‘No, no, you don’t understand,’ she answered. ‘Things were different in the mountains one hundred years ago. Grandpa and Grandma were poor farmers, no one could have cared less about them. Grandpa was a nobody and life was cheap in Tuscany then.'”

When Australian author and journalist Lisa Clifford moved to Florence to be with her Italian husband, an unsolved murder in his family became part of her life. The more Lisa found out about it, the more intrigued she became – so much so that she was driven to investigate the tragic events of a century ago. Soon it was not just the murder that obsessed her but also the harsh existence of Artemio and his family, one that had continued unchanged since the middle ages and had none of the warmth and sophistication of the Florentine life she knew. Death in the Mountains is Lisa’s brilliant recreation of the life and death of Artemio Bruni, and an evocation of the world of the Tuscan mountains in the early 20th century. It is both a murder mystery and a beautifully observed picture of a lost Italy.

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